In honor of Memorial Day I bring to you a monument commemorating two of our nation’s soldiers (figure 1). Of course, you know I wouldn’t put it up if I didn’t think there was something quite interesting about the monument. The first clue to its interest is that it lies in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.
There is no more significant burial site for Confederates than Hollywood Cemetery. There are thousands of ordinary Confederate soldiers here, and in addition one finds the graves of J. E. B. Stuart, George Pickett, and Jefferson Finis Davis, among many others. This is not promising for a Memorial Day post, because after all, Confederates fought against the Union. They also have their own memorial day. However, it is not impossible to find Union soldiers who died in battle, or in captivity, or after having moved to Richmond after the war. So perhaps it is fitting to celebrate Memorial Day after all with a Union soldier’s grave unexpectedly in Hollywood.
But no, our monument commemorates two Confederate soldiers. Both were killed at the Battle of McDowell in the Shenandoah Valley, at which Stonewall Jackson helped fend off the 1862 Federal advance upon Richmond. Jackson was tasked with beating back a flanking movement meant to come at Richmond from the west, via the Shenandoah. The main thrust, under the equivocally competent General McClellan, was coming up toward Richmond from Yorktown. The campaign was a dismal failure, you may recall.
The anagraphic data:
IN MEMORY OF
JAS. W. PATTERSON,
Co. D, 12th Ga. Regt.
A native Virginian.
He fell at McDowell
May 8th, 1862,
Aged 39 years.
LIEUT. J. K. GOLDWIRE,
Co. D, 12th Ga. Regt.
Fell at McDowell
May 8th, 1862.
Uh oh! They died in battle, and so were presumably unrepentant Confederates. It looks worse and worse for me. A bit o’ research shows Patterson enrolled a company of men in Georgia and his company joined others in Richmond to form the 12th Georgia Regiment on 14 June 1861. He is listed as having been in Company I, not D as this monument claims. He was commissioned a captain over the company he raised. Company I of the 12th was badly mauled in the battle at McDowell; they lost 35, with 140 more wounded. You can see a photograph of Patterson here, and it is strange to think that Patterson, like me, studied at Brown University.
John K. Goldwire (listed in the roster of the unit as John R. Goldwire, and elsewhere as John William King Goldwire) enlisted as a private the same day Patterson did. He was made a first sergeant in 1861 and was elected second lieutenant of company I on the day and battlefield on which he died.
The monument is made of granite, which makes it probable that the obelisk was erected two decades or more after the war, when that material became common. It is reasonable to think that it might have been raised on one of the war’s anniversaries; the 25th, for example, fell during the later 1880s.
Swords are common in military funerary iconography through the nineteenth century. Sometimes they are crossed, which may mean that the soldier in question died in battle, as it does for the Confederates in figures 3-5.
When hung, there seems to be a prima facie indication that the soldier died in retirement. This is the case on the obelisk of General Alexander Macomb, America’s onetime top general, who died in 1841 (figure 6), and also on the 1886 obelisk of Major Louis Bossieux in Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond, VA. (figure 8); but the hung sword can also signify death in battle as on the 1847 Botts monument, also in Shockoe Hill (figure 7).
Sometimes the sword is shown in the grasp of a soldier dead in battle, as with the fantastic monument for Brigadier General W.H. Stevens (figure 9), a former Confederate who died with U.S. Forces in Vera Cruz Mexico in 1867.
In a liminal space is the Pegram brothers’ monument in Hollywood Cemetery (figure 10). On it are two crossed swords, which are not technically hanging but are in an upright position as though they were. And both Pegrams, a Confederate General and Colonel, died in battle, a few months apart, in 1865.
There are, as one might expect, close parallels between customs in the South and in the North. Figures 11-15 illustrate versions of the hung sword motif, including a ‘sword laid down to rest’ variant in figures 14 and 15. Many other examples could be adduced.
The drapery on the Patterson obelisk qua drapery is not uncommon. Though I will not offer many comparanda here, it is worth pointing to the roughly contemporary Gray monument in Hollywood only a hundred meters or so from the Patterson monument. Its exquisite carving of the folds of the cloth, caught in afternoon sunlight, is a treat you deserve for reading this far (figure 16).
Of all the comparative evidence I’ve shown, the closest, it turns out, is Macomb’s 1841 obelisk (figure 6). But beyond the presence of drapery and a hung sword, is a third similarity, only noticeable at close range and stunningly unexpected. It puts the Patterson monument head and shoulders above most monuments to Confederate soldiers (and statesmen) in Hollywood. I’ve artificially colored it in figure 17.
Yep, the drapery is an American flag on a Confederate monument. And that makes sense, both because it was probably erected long after the immediate fires of the war had burned low in the survivors (such as those who commissioned the Patterson monument), and because it is a quintessentially American monument in that it looks past partisanship to find common ground (figure 19). This was the best aspect of the age of reconciliation, and it will be welcome again when President Trump is decades in our rear view mirror. This attitude, which not all who survive conflict manage to achieve, is worth remembering on this and every Memorial Day.